‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ – It’s Time To Put The Cash Cow To Sleep | Film Review
To state the obvious: nobody goes to see a Paranormal Activity film to experience a story of breath-taking originality. They go to feel queasy and teeter on the brink of cardiac arrest for ninety minutes. Disappointingly, The Ghost Dimension (directed by Gregory Plotkin) doesn’t even offer this. In short, it just isn’t scary, which is probably the saddest thing you could say about a horror film.
Paranormal Activity as a whole follows a tried and tested formula which worked the first couple of times, but with five PA films before it, The Ghost Dimension is stale and predictable. Before that first reel of found footage flickers into life, the audience can be certain of several facts. It will start happily. It will end badly. The priest will die.
For a seeker of cheap thrills, this predictability is by no means a terrible thing. One thing that Paranormal Activity does well is tension, and this build-up of tension relies in part on the audience’s anticipation of death and destruction. However, a vital element of PA-brand tension is subtlety. When the evil moves in, it’s invisible. It’s left to the imagination. The Ghost Dimension abandons this principle, and the result is disastrous.
One of The Ghost Dimension’s taglines, brandished proudly on the poster, is “For the first time, you will see the activity”. This heralds the reveal of the PA world’s resident spawn of Satan, Toby. I will skip the fact that I think Toby is a ridiculous name for a demon and say this: if I had been clamouring for five films to see what Toby looks like, I would be sorely disappointed with the image this film has unveiled.
Yes, Toby is an eyesore, but not in a “what is that horrifying demon” way; more in a “what is that goo oozing from my ceiling – should I call the plumber?” way. In revealing a decidedly lacklustre Toby, the film robs the audience of the personal nightmare they’ve customised in their darkest imaginings. This lunge for innovation, in stripping the horror of its subtlety, strips the film of its horror. For instance, a child sitting up in bed, talking to herself and staring into space would have been far more jarring than a child sitting up in bed and talking to a column of undulating Silly Putty.
Missing any genuinely frightening substance, The Ghost Dimension stands precariously on the rickety legs of horror genre clichés, a formulaic plot and easy jump scares. At its core, the film rests too heavily on one overused horror trope: the once-cute suddenly-creepy little girl with worrying imaginary friends. It feels especially manufactured when the girl in question, Leila (played by Ivy George) is discovered chanting nonsense words into a mirror.
Skyler (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley) – whose sole purpose in the film seems to be to spout useless feng shui tips while the camera zooms in on her chest – works out that Leila has been playing the game Bloody Mary, but reciting the words backwards. Why Leila is suddenly speaking to a completely unrelated entity is never explained and never mentioned again, which only leaves the impression that someone on the writing team must have squeezed the scene in as a grab for more scare points. It’s irrelevant, nonsensical and ridiculously forced.
The Ghost Dimension does have one or two saving graces, however; one being its moments of comic relief, which shoot some spark into the tired plot. The Ghost Dimension’s screenplay boasts four writers; Jason Pagan, Andrew Deutschman, Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan. While I wonder why it took four of them to write this film, I must give credit to them, because the dialogue is the best part of the film. The banter between brothers Ryan and Mike (played by Chris J. Murray and Dan Gill, respectively) is effortlessly funny, with Mike’s one-liners in particular standing out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sitting in the cinema wearing uncomfortable 3D glasses for laughs.
Speaking of 3D, it isn’t wasted on this film. When Ryan’s ancient camera begins to capture ethereal energies floating around the house, the visuals produced are stunningly immersive. The 3D also contributes something to the jump scares, which must bear the weight of becoming the scariest aspect of the film now that Toby has revealed himself to be a walking restroom accident.
But a horror film’s climax can’t rely on jump scares, and The Ghost Dimension’s climax chokes and splutters on the lack of tension fed to it throughout the film. The climax of The Marked Ones – however unintentionally hilarious that instalment may have been – had my heart racing. The ending of The Ghost Dimension did not do this. I’ve experienced more exhilaration watching Storage Hunters.
This film makes it painfully clear that, as far as innovative content is concerned, the franchise is on its last legs, and it seems that producer Jason Blum agrees. Blum has been quoted by USA Today as saying of The Ghost Dimension: “This is it, the finale”, adding “we’re not going to grind this horror franchise into the ground”. If that’s the plan, I would suggest travelling back in time and scrapping The Ghost Dimension.
Nonetheless, the franchise can’t be denied its past achievements. It succeeded many times over to frighten cinema-goers and groups of teenagers at sleepovers (nothing fastens the bonds of friendships more tightly than having to escort one another to the toilet in the middle of the night). But when a horror franchise isn’t frightening any more, it’s time to declare it legally dead. For how long, we can’t be sure. Now we know what Toby looks like, the real question is: how long will it be before someone resuscitates the cash cow?